Old Mary proved to be a wealth of information. Not only did she fill in some holes in my knowledge about my parents she also quickly brought me up to speed as far as Nordic customs. The only thing that cut our conversation short was the fall of night and at that point she dismissed herself saying she needed to get home. She said however that if I need to know anything she would answer as best she could. Mya and I escorted her home. She protested at first, but I pointed out that I would need to know where she lived so I could contact her secretly if need be. Her house was a small one room place in the Workers Quarter. It was clean and well maintained and my guess is she had a lot of influence with the people and they helped her out. I bid her good evening and we journeyed back to our room at the inn.
The next morning we awoke early and our first stop was the bathhouse. The place was mostly empty that morning so Mya and me took a full bath today and spent some extra time washing our hair. by the time we left the sun was up again and we headed toward the Guild Hall to see what our inquiry had brought us in the way soldiers and camp followers.
As far as workers who might become good soldiers, I had to contain my disappointment. Only five men showed up at the requested time and one look as if he hadn’t slept and one of them was clearly drunk. I dismissed the drunk and poured water from the well over the man who was asleep. The four men were typical Nordic men. Tall and strong but dressed in normal clothes. I asked if any of them had weapons and they all said ‘no’. I frowned and told them all to meet me the next morning at the North Gate and that they better be ready for a march. I saw them leave and expected I wouldn’t see but half of them the next morning.
The call for camp followers was met with better quality. I had four women to choose from and Mya and I were pleased at the knowledge of all these women. Most had been maids, cooks and seamstresses most of their lives so I knew I had women who could do the job. They all looked young but that was to be expected. Older women are married usually and with enough experience and a letter of recommendation they would be working in some greater capacity. Being a camp follower was in a sense a way of climbing the lower rungs of the ladder. In the end I picked one woman who had a letter of recommendation as a great cook and a second one who had a good report as a seamstress. My terms to them were that their duties to me came first. Once discharged their ‘relationships’ to the men were their own business but that could not interfere with their duties to me. They both nodded and smiled and I told them to meet me at the North Gate ready to go the next morning.
I then turned to the last task before I wanted to leave Ragnar – to see if there was a mercenary band willing to join my banner. I checked the guild hall and found that there were three mercenary bands currently in town looking for work. I took note of the ways to contact each one and began to make inquires. The first group turned out to be a bunch of drunks who that morning were still well hung over. None of them was equipped very well so I moved on to the second group which was much the same. So far I was looking at heading out with a band of mostly women and this began to worry me. The last band I found in a smoky tavern called the ‘The Bright Blade” by the outer wall of the Merchant’s Quarter. Never was a tavern so poorly named as the brightest thing about the place was the occasional clean fork. The rest of the place was pretty dingy and dark.
Oluf Blackblade was the proud leader of a band of Nordic mercenaries for hire. He himself was a tall man with jet black hair and a full beard. He looked to be slightly passed his younger days and was well muscled. I was impressed not because of this but because his chain mail armor was clean and bright which contrasted greatly with the surroundings. He wore a war axe in his belt that was made of silver steel and he looked every bit the part the commander.
Oluf was a pleasant man to have a conversation with. He smiled when he saw me and knew who I was before I said a word. He invited me to sit with him at his table and ordered an ale for me and when he saw Mya ordered one for her as well. Nord ale is strong stuff and so I sipped it rather than downing it in one draw like Oluf did and then ordered another. He then smiled and asked me to give my proposal. I showed him my letter of credit from the king and told him I was putting together a warband that would answer directly to King Bjorn. He listened patiently as I told him of the recruits I planned to gather and the need not just for a mercenary band to be the core of my warband but also a trainer to help me whip any men I recruited into shape. When I was finished I asked him if he would consider joining me.
“Well Lady Rosenhall, you make a fine offer but there was no discussion of the division of spoils.”
“I know, I am not sure what is fair in Altar.”
“Well my Lady, if I might suggest that, because you need us more than we need you, that we get double shares for my men until your recruits get up to snuff.”
“As long as Mya gets the same and I as commander get triple.”
“Fair enough, my Lady.”
I felt the offer was generous from Oluf and then curiosity got the better of me and I asked him why he was being so generous.
“Well Lady Rosenhall, I remember your Banner well. My father fought under it for the king back twenty years ago when I was but a lad. He said he was always proudest, and made the most money, when he fought with your father. I consider it a good omen to fight for you.”
“My father seems to have had a long reach even after so many years.”
“My Lady, every fighter knows Bjorn is not a brilliant tactician. He is charismatic and rewards his people well, but he is no general like your father was. Bjorn has only been able to hold what your father won for him. The King has tried many times to expand his kingdom but they have all ended in little result but dead men and stagnant boarders. Your father was the man who won the victories, Bjorn simply was smart enough to let him be the general.”
We finished up our business making everything official by putting it in writing. Then Mya and I headed to the North Gate to make our last preparations.